First off, selling isn’t bad. A lot of people who want to make a living or some extra income from their art, and in order to do that, they need to sell. Selling out, on the other hand, is when you are earning that money from something you don’t
Last week’s episode was an interview with illustrator and visual designer Spencer Goldade (or Spenny). Part of our conversation was about not compromising on your beliefs. Compromise in a situation is fine; sometimes you just have to watch a movie you don’t want to because you know next time you get to choose. But compromise on your morals and that’s when things can go wonky. This is when Selling Out can happen.
For a long time in my life, I drank Pepsi. A lot of Pepsi. I pretty much always had a bottle within arm’s reach. I have a couple bottles of Pepsi from different countries as well as a capped bottle with Pepsi inside from the'50s. (The bottle is from the '50s the Pepsi is from the ‘90s when it accidentally made its way onto the filling line at the bottling plant my dad was visiting on a sales call.) My dad, knowing my love of Pepsi, brought it home for me. A friend once bought me 12 one-litre bottles of Pepsi because they were on super special and it only wound up costing him about $5. Everyone I knew, from friends and family, was completely aware of my addiction to love of Pepsi. Now, imagine my music publisher comes to me and says I’m going to earn a fair amount of money because one of the songs I’ve written is to be used in a commercial … for Coke. (This didn’t happen; it’s just a silly hypothetical)
For some, this is hardly a decision. It’s not selling out—it’s just selling. You let the commercial play, take the money and make more cool creative stuff. But at the time, when Pepsi was such a part of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to make the deal without feeling like a sellout. It’s hardly compromising on morals. It’s not like if vegetarian Spenny started doing Illustrations for a meat packing company or anything. That would be a pretty big compromise of his beliefs.
I haven’t had a Pepsi in almost three years and if this pretend Coke deal came up now I may take it, who knows? Hey Coke! Want one of my songs for a commercial? Come offer me deal. I wanna know If I’ll take it or not. (Nope, just writing that made me think I wouldn’t.)
I recently listened to an interview with film director Joe Lynch, best known for the Wrong Turn horror movies. Early in his career, Joe took a job editing porn films to make ends meet for him and his new wife. After less than a month he realized no amount of money was going to be worth it, and quit. No prospects and no other income opportunities, he just left. Others stayed (obviously since porn just keeps getting made).
In the book Make Art Make Money - Lessons From Jim Henson on Fuelling Your Creative Career, the author Elizabeth Hyde Stevens talks about Jim Henson’s hesitation to license the Muppets for toys and games because he saw it as selling out. He saw it not as selling his art, but as selling copies of his art. When his manager told Jim that the revenue from these licenses would earn him enough money to allow creative freedom for the rest of his career, Mr. Henson worked out a solution. He’d allow the licensing to go forward because if he didn’t Sesame Street wouldn’t get any of the royalty money either. Plus, he’d have final say over any toy that used the Muppets’ likeness. What could have easily been a sellout move, where he just said yes and then took the money, he turned into another business arm for his company where his team actually did most of the designs for the early Sesame Street toys. (You can listen to my interview with the author at TheSparkAndTheArt.com/44)
You don’t sell out when other people say you have. You sell out when you say you have.
Here’s where you get to do some thinking
- What is it you believe in?
- Who would you turn down money from?
- Who wouldn’t you work with?
- Is there somewhere you wouldn’t want your work shown?
- What would have to happen for you to feel like you sold out?
Do you know someone who’s worried about being perceived as a sellout because they want to earn some money with what they make? Do you know someone who is currently using their talents for something they don’t really believe in? You can share this episode with them by sending them the url TheSparkAndTheArt.com/53 I would hope they’d get a little clarity around why it’s okay to ask for money for their work or to realize that money is never more important than what you believe in.
I’d love to hear what you think. Were you ever in a situation where you had to turn down creative work because of what you believe in? Let me know. You can find me on twitter @sh_tucker or if you want to tell a longer story, you can always leave a voice mail at my toll free number 1-877-966-4886
Thanks for listening and remember you won’t get the art without the work and you won’t do the work without the spark.